Communicating with the dead is not an unusual or new idea. There are séances and ouija boards, mediums and prayers whispered at graves, there is the hope of communication. LivesOn, an experimental program by a London-based digital agency, aims to make that hope more real, by continuing to tweet on behalf of the deceased.
Using artificial intelligence, the program will learn from your twitter feed to pick up on your syntax and likes, so that it can then tweet and retweet as you might. While your body may die, your digital persona lives on. It’s tagline is incredibly frank:
When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting. Welcome to your social afterlife.
Created by creative agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine, in conjunction with developers at Queen Mary University, the Tweetbot is still in its development stage but will begin testing in March. Several of the curious have already signed up to try out the program and see how their ghost may imitate them when they are gone.
News of this program is both morbidly depressing and incredibly interesting and it brings up a whole host of existential, philosophical and moral questions. Dave Bedwood, creative partner of Lean Mean Fighting Machine recognizes its controversial nature, saying:
It divides people on a gut level, before you even get to the philosophical and ethical arguments. It offends some, and delights others. Imagine if people started to see it as a legitimate but small way to live on.
But the thing is, you are not living on and your family are not communicating with the dead. You are an algorithm and your family are communicating with a computer. This is part and parcel of the social media phenomenon where people live separate lives online than in reality, but to the extreme. With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there is the ‘real you’ and the ‘digital you.’ In a 2010 TEDTalk, Amber Case argued we are all becoming cyborgs with our second selves living online:
Whether you like it or not, you’re starting to show up online, and people are interacting with your second self when you’re not there.
By reducing a person to their digital online self, LivesOn seems to devalue the person and their ‘real’ life and death. But people are signing up for it, so perhaps that is what they want: to be remembered as an avatar, showing up in their loved ones’ twitter feeds long after they’ve left.